The Dark Age Spanned

Of all the excavated sites in Greece and the Aegean region, it was to Athens that the archaeologists pointed as the once place which preserved a continuity from the end of the Mycenean age down to classical times, and where a sequence of pottery spanning the Dark Age could be followed. Athens thus became the site by which the finds at all other excavated places were identified and placed in time. We are therefore bound to examine the actual stratigraphic situation at Athens.

The sequence of pottery styles at Athens—and thus in all the Greek lands—is usually given thus?

Middle Helladic
to ca. -1550
Mycenean (Late Helladic)
to ca. -1230
to ca. -1050
to ca. -900

to ca. -680

It must immediately be said that neither in Athens nor at any other site in Greece has a stratified sequence such as this been uncovered. Then on what basis was the scheme built?

There are three ways of determining the relative position of pottery in time;

1) Relationship of motifs: Determining the sequence from a study of the way decorative motifs merge into one another. This method is of necessity a rather uncertain one but can be useful if employed together with other methods.

2) Juxtaposition of finds: If different styles are found in a common undisturbed deposit, this is strong evidence that they were contemporaneous. If they are found at different levels in a stratified deposit, this indicates their relative position in time.

3) Links with outside chronologies; If a certain style of Greek art can be associated with, for instance, Thutmose III and another style with Akhnaton, then at least a relative chronology can be established, even if the absolute chronology is in dispute.

The final stages of the Mycenean period at Athens were illuminated by Broneer’s excavations on the Acropolis in the late 1930s. Broneer found that emergency measures had been taken to fortify the city and prepare it for withstanding a siege: one of the measures was the construction of a deep well on the Acropolis with a wooden stairway leading down the shaft. At some point the stairway collapsed and the well was abandoned and filled with discarded sherds of late Mycenean pottery.1 Following the destruction of the fountain (Plato in his Kritias attributes it to “earthquakes”) occupation on the Acropolis ceased; only in the seventh and sixth centuries did building activity resume on the site.

Where did the people go during the dark centuries? This is a question which baffles the archaeologists. From the end of the Mycenean age till the seventh century there will be no dwelling places in Athens2—only a necropolis, or “city of the dead.” Where was the city of the living?

The series of burials which are supposed to fill the dark centuries between the end of the Mycenean age and the time of the Proto-Attic ware of the seventh century are located near the north-western Dipylon gate of Athens and in the Kerameikos cemetery next to it. Other tombs were excavated in the Agora, or marketplace, north of the Acropolis. The burials in the Kerameikos are associated with the style named “Protogeometric”—characterized by a narrow band of decoration around the middle of the vase, with the rest of the vessel having a black glaze. The decoration inside the band consists of concentric circles drawn by some sort of multiple i compass. The relationship of this ware with the latest Mycenean pottery found inside the fountain on the Acropolis cannot be judged for “it is a significant fact that the pottery from the fountain extends to, but does not overlap, the period represented by the early graves in the Kerameikos cemetery.”3 This brings into question the usual assertion that the Protogeometric ware followed the Mycenean and sub-Mycenean styles. If there is no overlap, how, can a sequence be established? Beside the fact that no dwelling places have been found for the people buried in the Kerameikos, there is another important indication that the Protogeoroetric pottery and the population associated with it are incorrectly placed following the Mycenean: all of the Protogeometric burials are inside cist-tombs of the type used in the pre-Mycenean or Middle Helladic age. These tombs are not derived from Mycenean tombs, but., where dated to Middle Helladic times, are considered antecedent to them.4 This, together with other factors to be discussed below, is a strong clue to the true placement of the Protogeometric pottery and the population group associated with it. The archaeologists should look to the Middle Helladic (pre-Mycenean) settlements for the houses of those bureid in the Kerameikos.

The Kerameikos burials continue into the Geometric period, but the bulk of Athenian Geometric pottery has been found near the Dipylon gate. Other Geometric sherds were found in a stratified deposit south of the Parthenon mixed together in one and the same stratum with Mycenean ware. A terrace filling yielded eight distinct layers, the lowest “well-defined stratum” dating from Mycenean and Geometric times and the one above it, taking in the period up to the burning of the Acropolis by the Persians at the beginning of the fifth century.5 But the Mycenean and Geometric periods are said to be separated by some four centuries. If the deposit had been accumulating for this length of time, how is it that none of the Protogeometric wares that supposedly followed the Mycenean and preceded the Geometric was found in it? The problem should be seen in the light of the solution proposed above, that the Protogeometric ware belongs to the pre-Mycenean, Middle Helladic settlement. As was noted long ago by Gardner, “fragments of Geometric vases, indistinguishable from the Dipylon type, have been found on various sites in Greece together with later examples of Mycenaean pottery.”6 On the Acropolis itself fragments of Mycenaean vases were found mixed with Geometric sherds.7 The find south of the Parthenon, taken together with the discoveries at. other sites from Troy to Pylos to Olympia, tends to show that Geometric ware was in fact contemporary with Mycenean, a case also very forcefully argued by W. Dörpfeld, as Velikovsky pointed out his discussion of “Olympia.”

Evidence amounting to proof that Protogeometric and Geometric pottery preceded and was contemporary with Mycenean ware was unearthed by C.C. Edgar at Phylakopi on the Aegean island of Melos. He found Geometric pottery under Mycenean, and mixed with it until the very end of the Mycenean deposit.8 Thus it would seem that while Protogeometric ware is contemporary with Middle Helladic and early Mycenean pottery9 the Geometric style coexisted with the Mycenean. An added proof of this is in the fact that in Egypt, in tomb paintings of the time of Thutmose III (tenth century according to the revised chronology) foreigners are shown bringing geometric pottery.10

The designs on the geometric vases from the vicinity of the Dipylon gate display features which strongly indicate that they were indeed made at the same period as Mycenean vases. They show “two-horse chariots, with very primitive horses, and with men whose wasp-waists remind one of Minoan and Mycenean art; and in some cases much of tha human figure is concealed by the great Mycenean or Minoan figure-of-eight shield.... The women are dressed much in the same fashion as the Minoan and Mycenean women, in tight bodices and bell-shaped skirts.” Thus, “everything seems to point to a civilization at Athens in the Dark Age something like the old Mycenean. ...”11 The Mycenean civilization survived till the beginning of the seventh century and merged with the orientalizing and proto-Attic styles.


  1. O. Broneer, “A Mycenean Fountain on the Athenian Acropolis” in Hesperia 8 (1939). 

  2. E.A. Gardner, and M. Gary, “Early Athens” in The Cambridge Ancient History Vol. III (New York, 1925), p. 597. 

  3. Broneer, “A Mycenean Fountain,” p. 427. 

  4. A. Andrews, The Greeks (London, 1967) p. 35; cf. C. G. Styrenius, Submycenaean Studies (Lund, Sweden, 1967), p. 161. 

  5. W.B. Dinsmoor, “The Date of the Older Parthenon” in American Journal of Archaeology 38 (1934), pp. 416-417. 

  6. E. Gardner, Ancient Athens (London, 1902), p. 157. 

  7. Ibid., p. 154. 

  8. C.C. Edgar, “The Pottery” in Excavations at Phylakopi in Melos [Supplementary Paper no. 4 of Journal of Hellenic Studies (London, 1904), pp. 85-107, and 159-163. 

  9. This seems to be implied by a find at Kos of Protogeometric and Mycenean IIIA vessels in the same undisturbed deposit, the Mycenean IIIA style was found at el-Amarna and therefore belongs to the ninth century according to the revised chronology. 

  10. Schliemann, Tiryns (New York, 1895), p. 39. 

  11. H. B. Cotterill, Ancient Greece (New York, 1913), pp. 99-100.